Local vet in the PED trenches

If Alberta pork producers didn’t know Egan Brockhoff’s name a year ago, they do now.

If Alberta pork producers didn’t know Egan Brockhoff’s name a year ago, they do now.

The veterinarian and partner in Prairie Swine Health Services of Red Deer has been front and centre in the battle to keep porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus out of this province. He’s spoken at Alberta Pork information meetings organized across the province and participated in seven producer teleconferences — the most recent last Thursday.

“Talk about serendipity,” said Brockhoff, who was serving as Alberta Pork’s biosecurity co-ordinator when the PED outbreak hit last spring.

“We did all of this work on biosecurity, introducing national biosecurity standards for the pork industry in 2012 and into 2013. Then, as PED came to Canada and the U.S., it just seemed natural for my role to continue as sort of helping them with biosecurity education and program development.”

The virus, which kills virtually every piglet it infects, has devastated the American hog industry. Millions of pigs have died and it’s estimated that 75 per cent of the U.S. sow herd is infected.

PED has gained a foothold in Canada, with most of the confirmed cases in Ontario but others found in Manitoba, Quebec and Prince Edward Island.

Alberta’s substantial herd has not been affected, which Brockhoff thinks is more than luck.

“We were just really well-prepared when the U.S. broke with their first case of PED n May 2013,” he said. “Our producers have a great cultural mindset of biosecurity, and that’s not something that I see everywhere I work in the world.”

Brockhoff said it’s been gratifying to see Alberta maintain its PED-free status and producers earn decent profits after years of losses.

“I think people are excited about going into their barns every day. Prices are very good, and coming off six years of very, very poor prices all of them have a renewed sense of enthusiasm and passion for what they’re doing — and that’s exciting to be part of.”

PED does remain a serious threat, warned Brockhoff, especially given the integration of the Canadian and American pork industries.

“We move a lot of pigs from Alberta down into the U.S. Midwest. And when they arrive there, those trucks and trailers are potentially being exposed to virus.”

The key, he said, is vigilance and a commitment to biosecurity.

“If everyone respects this virus and how easy it is to transmit, we’re gong to continue to keep Alberta PED free. And the longer we keep Alberta PED-free, the more successful our pork industry will be.”

In June, Brockhoff was recognized for his efforts with a Pork Industry Ambassador Award at the Alberta Pork Congress.

“To be recognized by the industry you serve, that’s pretty amazing,” he said. “I’m an Alberta farm boy and my family still farms, and I do what I do because I love working with farmers and agriculture.”

After growing up on a mixed farm south of Camrose, Brockhoff attended Olds College and then Augustana University. He eventually earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the University of Saskatchewan.

Brockhoff is the current president of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association and has served as a clinical instructor for swine medicine and surgery in the faculty of veterinary medicine at the University of Calgary for a number of years. At Prairie Swine Health Services, his practice takes him across Alberta and into Saskatchewan, and even to Iowa and Minnesota.

“I do a fair bit of work in Asia as well,” said Brockhoff.

During his years in the pork industry, biosecurity was often more of a “discussion point,” he acknowledged, with protocols related to things like barn access and truck washing lacking the urgency they deserved. That changed last May.

“I would say the threat of PED has moved everyone to take those things on with conviction.”

That’s encouraging, said Brockhoff, and bodes well for the future security of Alberta’s pork industry.

“We’re in a great position if we can continue to keep this disease out of Alberta.”

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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